A review of YES, PROGENY: SEVEN SHOWS FROM SEVENTY-TWO (Rhino, 2015).
As I’ve mentioned a number of times, I was born in the summer of love, 1967. The youngest of three boys (eight years younger than the oldest and five years younger than the older), I inherited my music tastes at a very early age. Our house always had music playing—whether classical, jazz, rock, or pop. I especially loved the first three, though I could belt out most of the words to Three Dog Night with the best of three year olds. Crazily, I was able to sneak out of the crab, crawl downstairs (duplex), and put my favorite records on the turntable at 3 in the morning. No, I’m not exaggerating. I wanted the entire house to listen!
My favorites, though, even as a little kid were the songs by Yes, the Moody Blues, and Jethro Tull. Soon, of course, bands such as Kansas and Pink Floyd would join this august company.
Sometime in 1973, one of my brothers purchased YESSONGS on LP. Three albums, complete with huge gatefold and lots of pictures (indeed, a really great book that came with it). I loved every aspect of YESSONGS. I loved the music, I loved the Roger Dean paintings, and I thought the pictures of the members of the band (including Eddie Offord) hilarious.
Not too many hippies hung out in central Kansas, so these guys looked really weird, mystical, and Tolkienesque to me.
Anyway, I spent a considerable amount of time as a small kid poring over the lyrics and the Dean images. How did those islands float? How did the deer get from one to the other. Of course, it all had been written about in C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra, but I’d yet to encounter that brilliant novel.
I can state with certainty that the entire package of YESSONGS—from lyrics to music to image—shaped my own imagination fundamentally.
So, when I heard that Yes would be releasing a fourteen disk live set from 1972, PROGENY, I couldn’t resist. I didn’t want the abbreviated version (the two disk highlights), I wanted the full thing.
Two things almost stopped me. First, I’m no longer a huge Yes fan. I was as a kid. Obsessed for quite a while. And, in college (1986-1990), too. Admittedly, I’ve purchased every single album—live or studio—Yes has produced. But over the last twenty some years, I’ve purchase the music out of habit more than out of love. There’s no doubt that every Yes album has something good on it, but the goods—at least to my mind—have become increasingly sparse. I don’t’ say this to ignite a flame war. But, from my very subjective viewpoint, Yes just isn’t as good as it once was. Some bands, such as Rush, get better and better. Others simply fade, and still others merely linger.
Second, I’m generally rather skeptical about these kinds of packages. If I’m shelling out over $50 for music, it better be amazingly good—music as well as art. I have, however, spent lots and lots of money on Rush (R40) and Tears for Fears (the Steven Wilson box set of SONGS). So why not for the work that really immersed me into prog.
“Dear God,” I thought as I hit the purchase button on amazon, “let PROGENY be worth the money.”
And, it is. This is the mother lode. This is the touchstone, the very source material, for YESSONGS. It’s pure, it’s raw, it’s flawed, it’s genius. At one point, during the beginning of a Wakeman solo, a local radio station playing Chuck Mangione, comes across the loudspeakers. Oh, Spinal Tap, how wise you are. Anderson makes a joke about it. Anderson and Howe even get along, making jokes from time to time.
I mentioned on facebook that PROGENY is an “outrageous Yes overkill live package.” It is. And, I love it. Pure over-the-top prog. Seven concerts, fourteen disks, seven sleeves, a glorious booklet, a firm and tasteful box, and, of course, 10 hours/31 minutes/32 seconds of music. Phew.
Despite a similar playlist for each concert, each performance is unique. For those of us who have listened to YESSONGS so very much it’s been grafted onto our very DNA, PROGENY is a brilliant revelation. Mistakes as well as fascinating solos (long, short, punctuated) predominate. While at this point in my listening, I couldn’t state the guitar solo on Roundabout is better at the Toronto show than it is at the Knoxville show, but I certainly hear every difference. This is a young, confident, happy Yes. This is a Yes that wants to change the world and do so through love, not through corporate dominance and lawsuits and bitter relations.
This is the Yes that taught me to love prog.
This is prog. This is love. This is Yes.
[Corrected two things: It’s Eddie Offord not Eddie Jobson (thanks, Duane Day); and I was off on time.]